The Year of the Rooster
Chinese New Year 2018 began on 16 February, marking the beginning of the Year of the Dog. I was lucky enough to find myself in the Chinatown in London during the 2017 Chinatown on 28 January, when the beginning of the Year of the Rooster was celebrated. The celebrations, which lasted two weeks, continued until 2 February.
For the Chinese people this is a very important anniversary, which is celebrated with big house cleaning, parties, dinners and gifts of money to children.
Chinese New Year takes place every year on a different date because it is based on the lunar calendar, and usually falls between January 21st and February 20th. The Chinese zodiac moves in a cycle of 12 years, each one characterized by a specific animal. For example, the previous years of the Rooster were 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993 and 2005.
Red lanterns in Chinatown
London’s Chinatown is located in the City of Westminster, around Gerrard Street. In fact during my stay I had already noticed the red lanterns that decorated much of the West End area, but I certainly didn’t expect to end up in the middle of a collective delirium that attracts something like 700,000 visitors, making it the busiest Chinese New Year celebration event outside Asia. Although the celebrations are concentrated in the area of Soho, the whole surrounding area, and we are talking about a really big area, the Saturday when the event started had been closed to traffic and I was able to enjoy the rare experience of walking in the middle of Charing Cross Road without risking my skin. And I also enjoyed the sight of hundreds of agents from Scotland Yard (God, when I like them!) patrolling the streets on foot and horseback, gorgeous in their black uniforms with phosphorescent yellow jackets with METROPOLITAN POLICE written on them.
Dragons and drums
Crowd. Immense, compressed, multiform. multicoloured and multiethnic, gathering from ten in the morning to six in the afternoon on the day the festivities begin. These begin with a parade that starts in the morning from Charing Cross Road and ends at Shaftesbury Avenue, and continue at various points, such as Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square, with performances of various kinds, including traditional and modern dances.
People are squeezed on the sides of the streets, admiring the typical dragons, masks worn by various people to form an elongated figure, dancing in jerks to the frantic rhythm of the drums. Now, the problem, or at least, that’s what happened to me, is that it’s practically impossible to see them, such is the crowd! Every once in a while I managed to catch a splash of coloured feathers jumping upwards. The advantage, however, is that these mini-shows are repeated incessantly in different places in the area, so with a bit of luck you may happen to see one in the front row.
A corner of relaxation
Incredible but true, the Chinese New Year event is also attended by religious and spiritual associations, some of which give the opportunity to try certain practices. I was amazed at the sight of a gentleman and a lady meditating peacefully, sitting cross-legged on the ground in the midst of chaos… But true meditation also implies being able to estrange oneself from the outside world, therefore, chapeau.
… and finally, the food of the gods
I got a little lost in the mood when, at lunchtime, I noticed that in front of all the restaurants, from the simple fast food to the more elegant, there were long queues of patrons. But, not even to say it, in London everyone is very organized and nobody is ever left empty-handed! My friend and I chose a restaurant at random, not knowing any of them, and it happened really well. The Viet Food of Wardour Street, in fact, turned out to be simply exceptional, both for the traditional, well-kept interiors and the food, simply fabulous. Soups, vegetable rolls, meat and seafood: all beautiful to see (and photograph) and extremely tasty. Highly recommended!